President Gotabaya’s throne speech on August 20, 2020 as expected does not spring any surprise or disappointments to the minorities particularly Tamils as it is a frank and forthright speech which is crowning Buddhism and Sinhalese and expressing his gratitude to them for their endorsement to his pledges.
The two-third majority of SLPP in the Parliament was made possible due to the disunited United National Party holding a two tier leadership which is still struggling to function as a political party with only one member from the national list. Added to this is the woeful situation of Tamil parties who while preaching unity are actually advancing disunity among themselves leaving the Tamil voters confused and dejected. The Tamil parties however are steadfastly clinging on to the concept of nationalism to cement their hold of Tamil voters.
This article proposes to deal with the policy statements made by President Gotabaya in his throne speech, particularly analysing the serious implications for the Tamils and other minorities who are not Sinhala-Buddhists.
Some of the pledges given by the President who purportedly believes in action and not word are as follows:-
- “We always respect the aspirations of the majority. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people can be safe guarded.”
- “I will protect and nurture Buddha Sasana during my tenure. I will set up an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks to seek advice on governance.” He has also stated that “his rule will be based on the advice of the Maha Sanga and will ensure priority for Buddhism.
- He has pledged. ‘To protect the unitary state of the country.”
- He has “Promised equal distribution of job opportunities for every province.”
- “The proposed new construction will give priority for the concept of one country, one law for all the people.”
- “Will take steps to protect the national heritage, culture and our country.”
- “While ensuring priority for Buddhism, it is now clear that freedom of any citizen to practise the religion of his or her choice is better secured.”
- “Our first task will be to remove the 19th Amendment.”
- “My desire is to build a prosperous nation contented, friendly and a righteous society and we will achieve this objective.”
According to President Gotabaya, sovereignty of the country lies with the majority Sinhalese and their aspirations must be respected and implemented. By this sweeping irrational definition of sovereignty the President has not recognized the minorities (Tamils and Muslims etc.) as equal citizens who also share the sovereignty, and having aspirations of their own to be respected and considered for implementation. This statement has totally rejected and discarded the mandated national aspirations of Tamils and Muslims.
His undertakings to protect and nurture the Buddha. Sasana and committing to rule on the advice of Maha Sanga while setting up an exclusive Buddhist Monk Advisory Council is his reconfirmation of his commitment to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala-Buddhist state with Maha Sanga holding the whip hand on Government.
When priority is given to Buddhism, the other religions are discarded and lose equal respect and recognition which is nothing but a simple discriminatory policy by a Government against minorities or any citizen. The President by pledging to protect the unitary state of the country has ruled out any form or semblance of federal form of government with devolution within a united country and a unitary government with all the powers centralized and at the disposal of the President appears to be the goal.
His promise “to protect national heritage, culture and our identity” leaves much to be desired as the protection will also be an exclusive one focused only on sites supposed to be evidencing Sinhala Buddhist heritage and marks. The aim is to declare them as ancient archaeological sites of Sinhalese for protection, while ignoring the ancient sites of Tamils already identified in the North [Vallip
puram, Anaiikottai Ponparippu etc.] . The Archaeological Task Force set up by the president consists of Sinhalese and Buddhist Monks, confirms the sinister intention and motive of the Government.
It is unclear how a non-Buddhist’s practice of religion is better secured while Buddhism is given priority and ranks first in the line-up. The possibility is Buddhism will be afforded all state privileges and contributions while other religions will be allowed to fend for themselves. The deliberate omissions of ministries for Hindu and Religious Affairs, National Reconciliation and Tamil Language Implementation plainly confirm the religious and racial discrimination.
The President’s proposed removal of the 19th amendment will inevitably ring the death knell for democracy in Sri Lanka, paving way for an executive President controlling the judiciary, police service, and civil services with no questions asked and without any checks and balances. A reign of intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, detention and abductions could become the order of the day with the blessings of the Government.
The President’s deliberate omission of the mention of the word ‘TAMILS’ and the 72 years old ethnic problem which harvested more than 200,000innocent Tamil civilians and costing the Government more than 20 Million dollars, is nauseating and confirms the non-recognition of Tamils and even their existence in Sri Lanka as a race living for more than 2000 years as recorded by local and western historians as original inhabitants of Sri Lanka.
It is also to be noted that all the ministers and state ministers’ numbering 60 or more only have one Tamil as Secretary.
Furthermore, the proposed new constitution could bury the 13th Amendment which granted some curtailed devolutionary powers to the North and East Provinces.
In short, President has abandoned the Tamils and spurned their grievances, buried the universal principles of justice, accountability and rule of law to carry out the agenda of militarization, Sinhalization and Buddhihization to convert Sri Lanka from a secure state for a Sinhala-Buddhist state to be exclusively possessed and owned by Sinhala-Buddhist.
The pertinent and disturbing question is, will the disunited Tamil political leaders be able to confront and defeat the malafide designs of this Government and deliver the goods to the Tamils or will they continue to behave as passive onlookers or rise to the occasion as protectors and preservers of our race, language history, heritage and identity.
Furthermore, the Tamil members of Parliament are duty bound to voice the grievances and injustices of Tamils not only history but also how to repeat their history for the ears of the international community.
Their duties must not end with contentment of parliamentary speeches, but they have to translate their words into action on ground with nonviolent and peaceful mass protests and agitations to achieve the Tamils national aspirations
Unless and until International Community and United Nations wake up to the calls of Tamils, the Tamil nation, Tamil nationalism will be left with the obvious choices of gradual extinction through assimilation due to continuing genocide which commenced in 1948 in the form of Sinhalalization, Buddhisizatoin and Militarization.
Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.